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I'm on a plane, I can't complain...
(This post was originally published on my blog also called Liminal Web)
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Ten days ago, I was on a plane to France. I’ll save you the suspense, everything went smoothly. I’ve been in my childhood home since – mostly chilling. As jetlag has finally worn off (it always takes longer when you’re not that active – I haven’t been that active for the past week), I’m not in a constant half-asleep half-awake state, so I’ll try to write a little. I’m not sure I’ll do it much more while in France; quiet and alone time is pretty scarce in my childhood home, with five people in it.
On Friday, March 10th, after work, I went home, the kids returned from their last day of school of the academic year (two weeks earlier than their friends, oh well), and we all hopped on a bus to Osaka.
Here are a few things that I wrote while on the bus (mostly on social media, so if you already follow me there, you may have read some of it already).
First, my very first memory of Japan, way back in May 2009, was a bus ride from Kansai airport to Takamatsu. Last week’s bus ride was pretty much the same route (except that it was headed for downtown Osaka instead of the airport) but in the opposite direction. I don’t think I have ridden this bus since I moved to Japan, so it was a big trip down memory lane, literally.
I did see some whirlpools while on the bridge to Awajishima (leaving Shikoku for only the second time in three years), but night came while on the island, so I didn’t see much of the amazing landscapes there.
We soon arrived on Honshu via the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, always a sight to behold, even during nighttime (it used to be the longest bridge of its type in the world for many years before being dethroned recently).
It’s interesting when many people think about Japan, what they mostly think about is Honshu. On the other hand, for me, Honshu is such a strange and foreign place. It feels like Japan, but not the Japan I know, almost like a Twilight Zone Japan or something. I really do experience a small culture shock when I go there, even more so when my first view of the island is Kobe’s skyline (as opposed to Okayama, which is not that different from Kagawa).
So many buildings, especially so many high-rise buildings, for dozens of kilometers non-stop is a pretty scary thing in my opinion. I’ve talked before about the chaotic urbanism of my neighborhood, but it’s nothing compared to big cities. Luxury apartments, right next to factories, right next to shopping malls, you name it. Entering Osaka, I saw this huge luxury condominium, I can’t imagine the price of some apartments, solely based on the size of their windows and balconies, except that they had a view on… well, on the highway! That’s how I could see them so clearly.
We eventually arrived in Osaka and headed to our hotel.
Our room was on the 25th floor. I don’t think I’ve ever slept that high (maybe in Tokyo, once?), and I had seriously mixed feelings about that. The thought of a possible earthquake was a bit unnerving.
No earthquake happened, and the view from my room was this one:
Not gonna lie, Osaka is one of the “scariest” cities I’ve ever been to. I’m not talking about crime here but, once again, about out-of-control urbanism. I simply can’t understand how some people can live there, or worse, how some people can love living there. To each their own, I guess, although, I’m convinced that a lot of Japan’s travails are due to the concentration of people in such places (low natality, countrysides dying, agriculture along with it, leading to more pollution, reliance on imports for food and more). It still makes for impressive pictures when you’re on the 25th floor of a hotel.
And at dawn, it looked like this:
Then, we took another bus to Kansai International Airport, crossing the ugliest parts of the city, its gigantic port (one of the largest in the world, I think – actually Google is telling me that it’s not even in the top 50 anymore, I can’t imagine the size of the other ones) and more factories.
Something I noticed. If you live in Europe or North America, in a city of a certain size, there is a good chance that the nice and rich parts of the city are on the west side, and the working class and industrial parts are on the east side. It’s not a coincidence. As winds usually go eastward (except near the equator, if I’m correct), since the industrial revolution, all the industrial and working-class parts of a city were pushed to the east. It’s not always the case, geography obviously plays a part, but I realize that it’s true even in my tiny barely industrialized hometown. Well, Japan is different (remember the chaotic urbanism part?), and Osaka in particular has most of its industries in its western part, by the sea. This means a lot of the pollution must be pushed into the city. Once again, I simply can’t imagine living there.
We soon arrived at the airport, when a trend (that actually started in the hotel’s lobby) became more and more obvious. Foreigners not wearing masks! I’ll try not to focus too much on it, but I won’t be able to ignore it totally. This is currently my biggest culture shock being back in Europe. I’ve read a lot about it, but seeing it with my own eyes is beyond disconcerting. Most of the western world has simply decided to pretend that there is no pandemic wreaking havoc all over the world at the moment. More on that later.
I was a bit weary to fly with Air France, I rarely had good experiences with them, but to be honest, this one probably was my best flight with them. Sure, the equipment inside the plane is still lackluster compared to many other companies (it always has been since I’ve flown). Those seats are so uncomfortable. I was afraid to break the folding tray as soon as I tried to use it for something other than putting food on it (that’s the reason I’m only writing this now, one week later, and not on the plane itself), but the staff was nice, which is an important and positive change. A welcome one after so many patronizing and conceited flight attendants in the past, to the point I used to wonder if it was part of their training.
Still, the service could be a little better. For example, on many airlines I’ve flown with, attendants will regularly walk around the aisles offering drinks to prevent dehydration (very important tip if you’re not used to long flights: drink, a lot, as you will get dehydrated, the ventilation system on the plane dries up the air, a lot). With Air France, sure, drinks are available by the flight attendants’ corners. You can use them freely. But you also need to know that and be able to walk there freely. Not always possible when you’re stuck between a stranger using their computer and your son who is sleeping.
Here are a few random things I wrote in a notebook during the flight (with comments and more details added now):
I can’t believe I’m flying above the Bering Strait… but it’s nighttime.
So yeah, because of Putin’s hubris and malevolence, you may know that not many planes fly over Russia these days. Instead, our plane flew to Alaska (and right above the Bering Strait – I never imagined being there one day, not even on a plane above it), then above the Arctic Ocean between Canada and the North Pole, then we crossed Greenland and flew down the North Sea to the Netherlands and finally France. In retrospect, I’m not sure why we didn’t fly above the northern parts of Canada, I thought planes flew on land rather than water when they could. There must be a valid reason for avoiding Canadian airspace, I wonder which one. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any of these places. First, we were not sitting next to a window. Also, it was nighttime for a good part of the flight. Finally, when I tried to get a glimpse of the Arctic Ocean and of Greenland (through the window next to the self-service drinks) we were above a sea of clouds. I saw Greenland once before, during my very first intercontinental flight. I still haven’t seen the Arctic.
Fun fact: During the flight, first it was day, then night, then day again and we landed at night on the same day that we left. Yes, that’s confusing. It almost feels like time travel.
The flight was not much longer than usual (14 hours instead of 12 hours). It was still too long for my taste, but that’s the price to pay when you live 10,000 km away from your hometown.
The good news is that I’m a little less scared of flying… at least for now.
I explained in the previous entry how I have become scared of flying. Well, the flight went as smoothly as possible. Hopefully, it helped with that very irrational fear that I developed in recent years.
Okay, people who regularly fly, I want your opinion. I don’t remember a single meal during a flight in the past 20 years or so when there isn’t some minor turbulence as we eat. Do I just have bad luck, or do they serve meals over areas that they know have minor turbulence on purpose (so that people remain seated or something?)
Talking about meals, we only had one at the beginning of the flight, and a few snacks near the end. They tasted much better than in the past, but that’s about 10 hours without food. I may need to bring snacks onboard on the return trip (do they even sell them in the international zone, in Charles-de-Gaulle? I’m not even sure.)
Val was such a beautiful, fascinating, and sad documentary.
What the note says. Watch it.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is available. I so want to watch it, but I’m not sure if doing it on a plane, with a tiny screen, bad sound and interruptions is a good idea.
What it says. I can’t believe I haven’t watched the movie yet (it’s not available in Japan, or if it has been released, it’s probably in big cities only or something – not to mention that we were in the middle of a pandemic wave, not the best time to go to the movies). I want to watch it legally, in a good setting, but I’m not sure if it’s going to be an option.
The guy next to me is a musician, a sound editor, or something. He’s editing something on his computer, there’s a music sheet and all. How can he work on a plane? I’m a bit jealous, I wish I could properly write instead of these tiny blurbs.
I did write a few more lines, but they’re not really interesting in retrospect.
After five years without leaving Japan, I started taking for granted the fact that almost everything is a piece of well-oiled machinery there. Landing in Charles-de-Gaulle was a good reminder of that. Of all the major airports in the world – provided that I obviously haven’t been to all – it is the one I despise the most.
How can such a big airport be so poorly designed? I never got lost in any airport except for this one. This time too, we had trouble finding our way despite the fact that on the map both gates were very relatively close to each other. And interactions with airport staff (be it security check, immigration, and such) were as unpleasant as possible, in pure Parisian fashion (for non-French people reading this, non-Parisian French people are much nicer, and we too struggle with their general unpleasantness). The security check lady almost insulted the woman right before me because the poor lady – who clearly didn’t understand French – was not complying exactly with what was asked.
Immigration was almost hilarious. You must know that I was traveling with the kids, but without mom, and the kids only have Japanese passports despite being binational (the passport office is 5 minutes away from home, and the French Embassy is about 600 km if you wonder why). In the past, we never thought twice about it as mom was always traveling with us. But this time she wasn’t. What if they gave me trouble entering the country? What if the immigration/police officer didn’t believe they were my kids (despite having the same last name)? Well, I got worried, so weeks before flying, I collected all official French documents I could get proving that I am the kids’ father. Well, the immigration officer barely looked at us. He asked me mumbling in English, holding my French passport in his hands if they were my kids and he let us go. Well, this too is France. Not gonna lie, this is a kind of lack of professionalism that I don’t mind at times.
The rest of the trip was eventless, except that the further we ventured into France, the fewer masks we saw on people’s faces. We were soon reunited with my parents after three years.
(to be continued)
And just like the previous post, let’s end this one with some music that will also explain the title.
For years, before becoming bilingual (although, this is the kind of mistake I may still make when dealing with music), I was convinced this song was called On a Plane. Oh well…